Fault Line by Barry Eisler
From ex-CIA agent turned bestselling writer comes FAULT LINE, Barry Eisler's first stand-alone thriller. A pulse-pounding and intelligent thriller that is one part Lee Child, one part Vince Flynn, and Barry Eisler all the way through. If you weren't familiar with Barry's nvoels before, you will be soon.
Eisl_9780345505088_2p_all_r1.qxp 9/8/08 7:40 AM Page v FAULT LINE A NOVEL BARRY EISLER Eisl_9780345505088_2p_all_r1.qxp 9/8/08 7:40 AM Page vi Fault Line is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the authorâ€™s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Copyright ÂŠ 2009 by Barry Eisler All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. Ballantine and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc. ISBN 978-0-345-50508-8 Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper www.ballantinebooks.com 987654321 First Edition Book design by Liz Cosgrove Eisl_9780345505088_2p_all_r1.qxp 9/8/08 7:40 AM 1 Page 3 LOOKING UP The last thing Richard Hilzoy thought before the bullet entered his brain was, Things are really looking up. He was on his way to the Silicon Valley offices of his lawyer, Alex Treven, who had arranged a meeting with Kleiner Perkins, the Midases of venture capital who could increase a company’s value a hundredfold just by offering to invest. And now Kleiner was considering writing a check to him, Richard Hilzoy, genius, inventor of Obsidian, the world’s most advanced encryption algorithm, destined to render all other network security software obsolete. Alex had already applied for the patent, and if things worked out with the VCs, Hilzoy would be able to rent office space, buy equipment, hire staff—everything he needed to finish commercializing the product and bring it online. In a few years he would take the company public, and his shares would be worth a fortune. Or he’d stay private, and become to security software what Dolby was to sound, raking in billions in licensing revenues. Or Google would buy him—they were into everything these days. The main thing was, he was going to be rich. And he deserved it. Working for chump change in an Oracle research laboratory, drinking Red Bull after Red Bull late at night and shivering in the deserted company parking lot for tobacco breaks, en- Eisl_9780345505088_2p_all_r1.qxp 9/8/08 7:40 AM Page 4 4 Barry Eisler during the taunts and laughter he knew went on behind his back. Last year his wife had divorced him, and boy was the bitch ever going to be sorry now. If she’d had any brains she’d have waited until he was rolling in money and then tried to shake him down. But she’d never believed in him, and neither had anyone else. Except Alex. He walked down the cracked exterior steps of his San Jose apartment building, squinting against the brilliant morning sun. He could hear the roar of rush hour traffic on Interstate 280 half a block away—the whoosh, whoosh of individual cars, trucks grinding gears as they pulled on from the entrance ramp at South Tenth Street, the occasional angry honk—and for once, having to live like this, right on top of the freeway, didn’t bother him. Even the cheap bicycles and rusting barbecues and stained plastic garbage containers crammed together against the side of the adjacent building didn’t bother him, nor did the reek the autumn breeze carried from the overflowing parking lot Dumpster. Because Alex was going to get him out of this sewer hole. Oracle was a client of Alex’s firm, and Hilzoy was Alex’s contact on patents there. Hilzoy hadn’t been overly impressed initially. He’d taken one look at Alex’s blond hair and green eyes and figured him for just another pretty boy—rich parents, the right schools, the usual. But he’d recognized soon enough that Alex knew his shit. Turned out he wasn’t just a lawyer, but had degrees from Stanford, too—undergraduate in electrical engineering, same as Hilzoy, and a Ph.D. in computer science. He knew at least as much programming as Hilzoy, maybe more. So when Hilzoy had finally worked up the nerve to pull him aside and ask about patenting Obsidian, Alex had gotten it right away. Not only had he deferred his fees, he’d introduced Hilzoy to a group of angel investors who had put in enough money for Hilzoy to quit his day job and buy the equipment he needed. And now he was poised to take money from the biggest swinging dicks of all. All in the space of a single year. Unbelievable. Of course, there were aspects of Obsidian that the VCs might not like if they knew about them. They might even have found them scary. But they wouldn’t know, because there was no reason to tell them. Ob- Eisl_9780345505088_2p_all_r1.qxp 9/8/08 7:40 AM Page 5 FAULT LINE 5 sidian could protect networks, and there wasn’t a Fortune 500 company out there that wouldn’t pay out the wazoo for that. That’s what VCs understood. The rest . . . well, that would all just be his little secret, a kind of insurance policy to fall back on if Obsidian’s intended uses weren’t enough to command the proper sums. He looked at his watch. He was nervous about the meeting. But there was time enough for a cigarette; that would calm him down. He stopped at the bottom of the stairs and fired one up. He took a deep drag, then put the pack and the lighter back in his pocket. There was a white van parked next to his car, an ’88 Buick Regency he’d bought after selling his Audi during the divorce. humane pest control, the van said. He’d noticed it here, what, three times in the last week? Four? He’d seen a rat once, under the Dumpster. And there were roaches. Somebody must have made a stink with building management, and now the idiots were trying to show they were doing something about it. Whatever. Pretty soon that would all be someone else’s problem. There were some scares along the way, existing inventions Alex was concerned might prevent them from getting a patent. And something about a possible secrecy order from the government, which could slow things down. But so far Alex had always found a way around the problems. The patent hadn’t been issued yet, but the application itself was bankable. Hilzoy had been worried at first about describing the source code in the patent application because anyone who got hold of it would know the recipe for Obsidian, but Alex had assured him the Patent and Trademark Office maintained all applications in strict confidence for eighteen months, at which point they’d have a good idea about whether a patent would be forthcoming. And once the patent was issued, it wouldn’t matter whether people knew the recipe or not—they couldn’t use it without paying him the big bucks. And if they tried to, Alex would sue them into the ground. That’s right, people, you want to play, you got to pay. He paused in front of the Buick and got out his keys. What a piece of crap. It had over a hundred thousand miles on it and every one of them showed. It was the kind of car you could piss all over and no one would Eisl_9780345505088_2p_all_r1.qxp 9/8/08 7:40 AM Page 6 6 Barry Eisler even notice. A Mercedes, he thought, not for the first time. Or maybe a BMW. Black, a convertible. Heâ€™d have it detailed four times a year so it would always look new. The pest control guy got out of the van. He was wearing a baseball cap, coveralls, and gloves. He nodded to Hilzoy through a pair of shades and moved past him. Hilzoy nodded back, glad he didnâ€™t have to kill rats for a living. He took a drag on the cigarette, then tossed it away, enjoying the feeling of wasting it. He blew the smoke up at the sky and unlocked the car door. Yeah, baby, he thought. Oh yeah. Things are really looking up. Eisl_9780345505088_2p_all_r1.qxp 9/8/08 7:40 AM Page 7 2 ONE SHOT Alex Treven was pacing in his office at the law firm of Sullivan, Greenwald, Priest & Savage. Outside the window was an expanse of hard blue sky and the gentle curves of the Palo Alto hills below it, but Alex was oblivious to the view. It took him five steps to reach one sun-dappled wall, where he would stop, pivot, and repeat the process in the other direction. He counted steps, imagining he was wearing down a path in the green carpet, trying to distract himself with trivia. Alex was pissed. Hilzoy, who ordinarily was even more punctual than Alex, had picked today of all days to be late. They were going to see Tim Nicholson—Tim frigging Nicholson!—and the Kleiner partner wasn’t going to be impressed if Hilzoy couldn’t make a first meeting on time. And it wasn’t going to make Alex look good, either. He checked his watch. Well, they still had thirty minutes. Hilzoy was supposed to get here an hour early for a last rehearsal of the pitch and some role-playing, but they could dispense with all that if they had to. Still, where the hell was he? His secretary, Alisa, opened the door. Alex stopped and fixed his eyes on her, and she flinched. “I’ve called him at least twenty times,” she said. “All I get is his voice mail.” Alex resisted the urge to shout. This wasn’t her fault. Eisl_9780345505088_2p_all_r1.qxp 9/8/08 7:40 AM Page 8 8 Barry Eisler “Go to his apartment,” he said. “See if you can find him there. South Tenth Street in San Jose. I forget the exact address, but it’s in his file. Keep trying him on the way and call me when you arrive. We’ve still got a little time before I have to cancel the meeting and we look like idiots.” “What do you—” “I don’t know. Just call me as soon as you get there. Go.” Alisa nodded and closed the door. Alex returned to his pacing. God, don’t let him screw this up, he thought. I’ve got so much riding on it. Alex was a sixth-year associate at Sullivan, Greenwald, getting close to that delicate “up or out” stage of his career. It wasn’t as though anyone was going to let him go; his blend of science and patent law expertise was too unusual, and too valuable to the firm, for him to ever have to worry about unemployment. No, the problem was much more insidious: the firm’s partnership liked him exactly where he was, and wanted to keep him there. So in another year, two at the most, they’d start talking to him about the benefits of an “of counsel” position, the money, the seniority, the flexible hours and job security. It was all bullshit to him. He didn’t want security; he wanted power. And power at Sullivan, Greenwald, he knew, came only with your own client base, your own book of business. If you couldn’t eat what you killed, you’d always be dependent on the scraps from someone else’s table. That might have been fine for other associates. But it would never be enough for him. Which was why Hilzoy was so damned valuable. Alex had grasped the potential of Obsidian in a way he knew few other people could—not from Hilzoy’s pitch, but by actually getting under the hood and examining the fundamental design. It had taken maneuvering, and a level of political skills he didn’t even know he had, to convince the partners both to defer the firm’s fees and to list Alex as the originating attorney. Behind their Bay Area casual attire and the first-name basis with the secretaries and paralegals, these guys were all sharks. When they smelled blood in the water, they wanted the kill for themselves. Alex’s mentor was a partner named David Osborne, a shrewd lawyer Eisl_9780345505088_2p_all_r1.qxp 9/8/08 7:40 AM Page 9 FAULT LINE 9 but with no formal tech background of his own. Over the years, the strategic patent-counseling side of his practice had grown increasingly dependent on Alex’s technical acumen. He made sure Alex’s twiceyearly bonuses were the highest the firm could give, but in front of the clients he always managed to take credit for Alex’s own insights. He put on a confident show in his trademark cowboy boots and fuchsia T-shirts, but inside, Alex knew, Osborne felt threatened by people he suspected had more potential than he. So despite the periodic noises he made about backing Alex for partner “when the time was right,” Alex had come to believe that time would never come. Partnership wasn’t something they gave you, Alex had decided. It was something you had to take. So after several secret meetings with Hilzoy to ensure that he really did own the Obsidian technology, or at least that no one could prove otherwise, Alex had taken a deep breath and walked down the short stretch of expensively carpeted corridor that separated his mediumsized senior associate’s office from Osborne’s gigantic partner’s version. Both offices were in the main building, the massive round structure the partners liked to refer to as the Rotunda but that was better known among the associates as the Death Star. An office in the Death Star rather than in one of the two satellite buildings conferred a certain degree of status—the kind of thing that mattered a great deal to Osborne and, Alex had to admit, to himself, too—as well as putting its occupant at the geographical center of the firm’s action. Outside Osborne’s door, he had paused to collect himself in front of the massive wall display of Lucite tombstones commemorating work done for Cisco, eBay, Google, and a hundred others. There were framed photos of Osborne with various Valley luminaries, with the celebrity CEO of a major telecom Osborne had recently landed as a client in a major coup, and even one with the prime minister of Thailand, where Osborne traveled three or four times a year to work the project-finance practice he had developed there. Alex tried not to think of the kind of power and influence a person would accrue in doing all those deals and knowing all those players. The trick was to convince yourself of the Eisl_9780345505088_2p_all_r1.qxp 9/8/08 7:40 AM Page 10 10 Barry Eisler opposite—that the person you were about to face in negotiations was beneath you, needed you far more than you needed him—and Alex knew the tombstones and photographs were as much about causing people to flinch and abandon negotiating positions as they were about bragging rights. He had psyched himself up, gone in, and made the pitch. The balance was delicate—it had to sound interesting enough to make Osborne want to say yes, but not so interesting that he’d be tempted to try to claim the origination for himself. After all, if this went well, the patent would be just the beginning. It would also involve a ton of corporate work, and that was Osborne’s specialty more than it was Alex’s. When Alex was done, Osborne leaned back in his chair and put his cowboy boots up on the desk. He scratched his crotch absently. The relaxed manner made Alex nervous. It felt like a feint. He knew that behind it, Osborne was already calculating. “What’s my client going to say about this?” Osborne asked after a moment, in his nasal voice. Alex shrugged. “What can they say? The invention doesn’t have anything to do with Oracle’s core business or with Hilzoy’s day-to-day responsibilities there. I’ve already checked the employment contract. Oracle doesn’t have any claims.” “What about—” “He invented it at home, on his own time, using his own equipment. We’re okay optically, too.” Osborne smiled slightly. “You did your homework.” “I learned from the best,” Alex said, and then immediately wished he hadn’t. Osborne would probably twist the comment in his mind until it became You’ve taught me so much, David. I owe you everything. “Tell me how you met this guy,” Osborne said after a moment. “He called and asked if I could advise him about something he was working on at home,” Alex said. He’d rehearsed the lie so many times that he remembered it as though it had really happened this way. “I met him at a Starbucks and he showed me what he’d been doing. I thought it looked promising so I took it from there.” Eisl_9780345505088_2p_all_r1.qxp 9/8/08 7:40 AM Page 11 FAULT LINE 11 It wasn’t the answer Osborne had been hoping for, of course. If Alex had told him the truth—that he and Hilzoy had first discussed Obsidian while Alex was at Oracle on firm business—it would have presented an opportunity for Osborne to make a stronger But for me, this wouldn’t even have come to you argument. Alex expected Osborne would probably check with Hilzoy, discreetly, if he ever got a chance. But Alex had prepared Hilzoy for this possibility. For both their sakes, the more this thing seemed to have happened outside of Oracle and Sullivan, Greenwald, the better. “I don’t like it,” Osborne said. “The client will say you met this guy through them. Even if they don’t have a legal case, I’m not going to risk pissing off a client like Oracle for something that’s pretty small-time by comparison.” “Come on, David, you know every company ever born in the Valley at some point had a connection to a big established corporation that was somebody’s client. It’s just the way it works. And Oracle knows it, too.” Osborne looked at him as though considering. Probably enjoying the ability to take his time and make Alex squirm on the carpet before him. “Let me have this one, David,” Alex said, a little surprised by the firmness of his tone. Osborne spread his arms, palms up, as though this went without question, as though he hadn’t spent every minute since this conversation began looking for a way to freeze Alex out. “Hey,” he said. “Who’s your daddy?” It wasn’t an answer, or at least not a definite one. “Hilzoy is mine?” Alex said. “I’m the originating attorney?” “It seems fair.” “Is that a yes?” Osborne sighed. He swung his boots off the desk and leaned forward as though he was ready to get back to whatever Alex had interrupted. “Yes, it’s a yes.” Alex permitted himself a small smile. The hard part was over. Now for the really hard part. Eisl_9780345505088_2p_all_r1.qxp 9/8/08 7:40 AM Page 12 12 Barry Eisler “There’s just one thing,” Alex said. Osborne raised his eyebrows, his expression doubtful. “Hilzoy . . . went through a nasty divorce last year. He doesn’t have any money.” “Oh, for Christ’s sake, Alex.” “No, listen. He can’t afford our fees. But if we incorporate him, take a piece of the company—” “Do you know how hard it is to get the partnership committee to go for that kind of speculative crap?” “Sure, but they take your recommendations, don’t they?” This was a gambit Alex had learned in years of negotiating for clients. When the other side pleaded that it wasn’t their decision, that they had to check with the board or the management committee or Aunt Bertha or whoever, you engaged their ego, and then their desire to be consistent. Osborne was too experienced to fall for it. “Not always, no.” “Well, this time they should. This technology has promise. I’ve examined it personally, and you know I know better than most. I’ll do all the work myself. Not instead of everything I’m already doing. In addition to it.” “Come on, Alex, you’re already on track to bill over three thousand hours this year. You can’t—” “Yes I can. You know I can. So what we’re talking about is a percentage of something for the firm—something that could be big—in exchange for effectively no investment. The partnership committee won’t listen to you when you propose that?” Not if, when. Osborne didn’t respond, and Alex hoped he hadn’t pushed it too hard. Osborne was probably wondering, Why is he willing to sacrifice so much for something so speculative? Is this thing going to be bigger than he’s letting on? Alex tried again. “The committee listens to you, right?” Osborne smiled a little, maybe in grudging admiration of how well Alex had played his hand. “Sometimes,” he said. “Then you’ll recommend it?” Eisl_9780345505088_2p_all_r1.qxp 9/8/08 7:40 AM Page 13 FAULT LINE 13 Osborne rubbed his chin and looked at Alex as though he was concerned for nothing but Alex’s welfare. “If you really want me to. But you know, Alex, this is the first matter you’ve ever originated”—First one you’ve ever let me originate, you mean—“and if it doesn’t pan out, you’re not going to look good. It’ll show bad judgment.” Bad judgment. At Sullivan, Greenwald it was the ultimate, allpurpose opprobrium. Anything that went wrong, even if it wasn’t the attorney’s fault, could be attributed to bad judgment. Because if the attorney had good judgment, he would have seen it coming no matter what. The bad thing wouldn’t have happened on his watch. Alex didn’t respond, and Osborne went on. “All I’m saying is, for a risk like this, you want a margin for error, a cushion to fall back on.” Alex was disgusted with the way Osborne presented all this as though he were Alex’s best friend. He knew he was supposed to say, You’re right, David. You take the origination. Thanks for protecting me, man. You’re the best. Instead he said, “I thought you were my cushion.” Osborne blinked. “Well, I am.” Alex shrugged as though that decided it. “I couldn’t ask for better protection than that.” Osborne made a sound, half laugh, half grunt. Alex took a step toward the door. “I’ll fill out the new client form and a new matter form, run a conflicts check.” This was it. If Osborne was going to try to overrule him, he’d have to say so now. If he didn’t, every day that passed would create new facts on the ground that would be harder and harder for Osborne to get around. “If we’re not taking any fees,” Osborne said, “I still have to take this to the committee.” “I know. But I feel confident they’ll listen to you.” Alex looked at Osborne squarely. “This is important to me, David.” Unspoken, but clearly understood, was, So important that if you screw me, I’ll be working at Weil, Gotshal next week, and you can find someone else to make you sound as smart with your clients as I do. Eisl_9780345505088_2p_all_r1.qxp 9/8/08 7:40 AM Page 14 14 Barry Eisler A beat went by. Osborne said, “I don’t want you working on this by yourself.” Alex hadn’t been expecting that and didn’t know what it meant. Had he just won? Had Osborne caved? “What do you mean?” he asked. Osborne snorted. “Come on, hotshot. How are you going to ride this to where you want it to take you if you don’t have any associates working under you?” Alex hadn’t thought about that. Mostly he worked alone. He liked it that way. “Look, it’s a little early—” “Also,” Osborne said, “how are we going to justify a big piece of this guy’s company if we’ve only got one lawyer on it? We want him to know he’s being treated right.” Alex didn’t know whether to laugh or what. Osborne was practically telling him to pad his time. But if this was what it took for Osborne to feel he’d won a little victory in the midst of the way Alex had played him, fine. “I see what you mean,” Alex said. “Use the Arab girl, the good-looking one. What’s her name?” Alex felt a little color creep into his cheeks and hoped Osborne didn’t notice. “Sarah. Sarah Hosseini. She’s not Arab. She’s Iranian. Persian.” “Whatever.” “Why her?” “You’ve worked with her before, right?” “Once or twice.” Osborne looked at him. “Three times, actually.” Christ, Osborne was no tech whiz, but when it came to who was billing for what, he was all over it. Alex scratched his cheek, hoping the gesture seemed nonchalant. “Yeah, I guess so.” “You said in your review she’s ‘unusually confident and capable for a first-year.’” Eisl_9780345505088_2p_all_r1.qxp 9/8/08 7:40 AM Page 15 FAULT LINE 15 The truth was, the description was an understatement. “That sounds right.” “She’s smart?” Alex shrugged. “She has a degree in information security and forensics from Caltech.” He knew Osborne might sense a mild put-down in this, but was annoyed enough not to care. “Well, she’s not busy enough. Use her. Build a team. Do you have a problem with that?” Why was he pushing it this way? Would the extra lawyer give Osborne a greater claim, maybe to supervise the work, start taking it over, something like that? Or was he just having fun, teasing Alex, forcing him to work with Sarah because he knew— “No,” Alex said, cutting off the thought. “There’s no problem.” Osborne had pitched the partnership committee as promised about taking on Hilzoy, and the committee had okayed the arrangement. Osborne told him there had been opposition, but Alex suspected that was bullshit. For all he knew, Osborne might not have needed to pitch it at all. Maybe the committee loved this kind of shit—sure, get the associate to bill even more hours, while we keep the profits if his work turns into anything. Maybe Osborne had just positioned it as some Herculean task so Alex would feel in his debt afterward. It didn’t matter. Alex didn’t owe anybody. He’d gotten this far by himself. His parents were gone, his sister was gone, his sole remaining family was his prick of an older brother, Ben, who had caused everything and then run away to the army after their father had . . . after he had died. Alex hadn’t talked to Ben since their mother’s funeral, eight years earlier. Even then, with nothing left but the two of them, Ben wouldn’t say where he was or what he was doing. He just showed up for the ceremony and left, leaving all the details to Alex, just as he’d left Alex alone to care for their mother during the last year and a half of her life. After he’d finished the probate—again, all by himself—Alex had sent Ben an e-mail explaining his share of the estate, which was pretty Eisl_9780345505088_2p_all_r1.qxp 9/8/08 7:40 AM Page 16 16 Barry Eisler big, as their father had done well and there were only the two beneficiaries. Ben hadn’t even thanked him, just told him to send the paperwork to an address at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, saying he’d sign it when he could. For all Alex knew, right now Ben was in Iraq or Afghanistan. Sometimes Alex wondered whether he was even still alive. He didn’t care. Either way he was never going to talk to him again. Goddamn Hilzoy. Alex hated that he needed him, but he did. Because if Obsidian was even half as successful as Alex expected it to be, the seed money was going to be followed by a second, third, maybe a fourth round of financing. After the acquisition or the IPO, the firm’s share would be worth a fortune. And Hilzoy would never forget who got him there. All the legal work afterward, and all the billing for it, would be Alex’s and his alone. His name would be indelibly linked with Obsidian, he would be the lawyer who represented the hottest company of the year, maybe the decade, and then the David Osbornes of the world would be begging for the crumbs from his table. Assuming Hilzoy hadn’t already blown it for them. Did he understand just how busy these VCs were, how many proposals were pitched at them every single day, how few they actually followed up on? You get one shot for these people’s attention, Alex had told him, just one shot. If Hilzoy screwed this up, Alex was going to kill him. Eisl_9780345505088_2p_all_r1.qxp 3 9/8/08 7:40 AM Page 17 A SIMPLE UNDERSTANDING Ben Treven sat motionless at the edge of a wooden chair at the Hotel Park Istanbul, watching the rainy afternoon street two stories below through tattered gauze curtains. The room was small and spartan, but its size and furnishings couldnâ€™t have mattered less to him. The window was open a few inches, and from time to time the interior quiet was broken by the sounds of the city without: car tires thumping over the antique cobblestone streets and splashing through potholes; the practiced touts of rug merchants calling out to passing tourists from in front of their small shops; the haunting notes of the muezzin, entreating the faithful to prayer five times daily between dawn and dusk. In addition to letting in the sounds of the street, the open window kept the room cold. When the moment arrived, he would need to move quickly, and he was already wearing deerskin gloves, a wool cap, and a fleece-lined, waterproof jacket. His hair was naturally blond, but the false beard he wore was black. With the hat on, no one would notice the discrepancy. The warm clothing would be useful in the rain and against the December chill, of course, but that was only part of it. The gloves prevented prints. The hat obscured his features. The jacket concealed a suppressed Glock 17 in a cross-draw holster on his left side. Eisl_9780345505088_2p_all_r1.qxp 9/8/08 7:40 AM Page 18 18 Barry Eisler On the coffee table next to him was a backpack containing clothes, two sandwiches, a bottle of water, a first-aid kit, ammunition, false travel papers, and a few other essentials. Other than the backpack, there was no trace of the room’s occupant, nor would there be when he was gone. He was there to kill two Iranian nuclear scientists, Omid Jafari and Ali Kazemi. Ben knew a lot about the men: their real names, the names they were traveling under, the details of their itineraries. He knew they were in Istanbul for a meeting with a Russian counterpart. He knew they were staying at the Sultanahmet Four Seasons, which is why he had taken this room at the Park, directly across the street. He had copies of their passport photos and had recognized them immediately when they arrived from the airport in one of the hotel’s BMW limousines three days earlier. He knew the two men who accompanied them at all times were with VAVAK, Iran’s feared secret service, and that the VAVAK people, in addition to being well trained, would be motivated. If one of the scientists were kidnapped or assassinated, or if one of them defected, as Ali Reza Asgari, the Iranian general and former deputy defense minister, had done not so long before, the man who let it happen could expect to be executed. He knew considerably less about the Russian: not much more than a real name, Rolan Vasilyev—which he probably wasn’t traveling under anyway—and that he was coming to Istanbul to meet the Iranians. Washington had been pressuring Moscow about Russian nuclear assistance to Tehran, and presumably the Kremlin had decided it was too risky to bring the Iranians to Russia, even under false names. Istanbul was a good neutral corner: about midway geographically, with good air links, and security services focused more on ethnic Kurds than on Russians or Iranians. Each morning since they had arrived, the Iranians and their VAVAK minders had gotten into one of the hotel limousines and returned after dark. Ben figured these trips were for meetings with Vasilyev and would have liked to follow them to learn more, but the likely costs outweighed Eisl_9780345505088_2p_all_r1.qxp 9/8/08 7:40 AM Page 19 FAULT LINE 19 the benefits. Alone in a car or on a motor scooter, he would be relatively easy to spot. Even if he weren’t spotted, catching them in a venue that enabled him to do the job and depart without trouble would require an unrealistic amount of luck. He might have tried taking them as they arrived at or departed from the hotel, but the front and interior of the Four Seasons were quietly replete with cameras, doormen, and security personnel. It just wasn’t a good place for a hit, which was part of the reason they had chosen it in the first place. It didn’t matter, though. His gut told him something would open up. After all, the Iranians were in town for seven days, and what did that mean? Probably that they expected to be done with their work in four, or maybe five. Country and culture were irrelevant: when the government or the corporation or anyone else was footing the bill, bureaucrats and other worker bees could always be expected to overestimate the time they would need for meetings. Especially when the meetings required their presence in a city as enticing as Istanbul, and at a hotel as fine as the Four Seasons. In fact, the choice of hotel increased Ben’s confidence about what was coming next. Because if the Iranians could persuade the bean counters to spring for the Four Seasons, cost was obviously not a consideration. If cost wasn’t a consideration, they could have stayed at any hotel in the city—the Pera Palas, the Ritz-Carlton, even the second Four Seasons, recently opened on the Bosporus. Ben had checked with all of them, and they all had rooms available. They all offered more or less the same level of luxury and security. The question, then, was, why this hotel? The answer, Ben thought, was location. All the other luxury properties were in Beyoglu, the newer part of the city, north of the Golden Horn. Only the Sultanahmet Four Seasons was a five-minute walk from the city’s most storied attractions: the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, the Grand Bazaar. And if Ben was right about location being the deciding factor, he was confident the Iranians would take at least a day, and probably more, to see those walking-distance sights. Eisl_9780345505088_2p_all_r1.qxp 9/8/08 7:40 AM Page 20 20 Barry Eisler When they set out from the hotel on foot, Ben could get behind them. From there, an opportunity would present itself. All he had to do was wait. Which was fine. Waiting didn’t bother him. He liked to wait, in fact, liked the simplicity of it. Waiting was the least complicated part of an uncomplicated job. Periodically, he received orders. The orders were always short and direct, and he had extremely wide latitude in determining how to carry them out. He could ask for whatever equipment he needed, and the equipment would promptly turn up in a dead drop as though by magic. There was no questioning, no red tape, no oversight. The only real constraint this time was that Vasilyev was off-limits. During the early years of the Cold War, trying to remove the other side’s pieces from the board was considered just another part of the game. Eventually, like rival mafia families, everyone had figured out the bloodshed was more expensive than it was worth, and a kind of shadowy détente had settled in. Now, no one wanted to be responsible for breaking the truce, for a return to those bad old bloody days. He tried not to be irritated by the restrictions. After all, it wasn’t like the Russians were matching Uncle Sam’s restraint. They had killed that guy Victor Litvinenko in London with polonium. And there were all those dead journalists, too—Anna Politkovskaya, Paul Klebnikov, too many to keep up with. Ben thought he could make a pretty good argument that Ivan was getting more aggressive precisely because of Uncle Sam’s overzealous devotion to the rules, but that kind of shit was above his pay grade and it wasn’t as though anyone would listen to him anyway. But if he could, he would have asked someone what had happened to “You’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists.” He supposed it had been just another empty slogan from another lying politician. They were all liars, actually. The left was naïve, thinking you could follow the niceties and still fight effectively against the kind of fanatics America was up against. And the right was hypocritical, thinking you could take off the gloves and still occupy the moral high ground. Yeah, the left couldn’t understand the nature of the fight; the right Eisl_9780345505088_2p_all_r1.qxp 9/8/08 7:40 AM Page 21 FAULT LINE 21 couldn’t accept its true consequences. But Ben didn’t care about the niceties, he didn’t care about the moral high ground, he cared about winning. And the way you won was by being the hardest, dirtiest, deadliest motherfucker the enemy could ever have imagined in his worst nightmare. Christ, what good were rules if they made you lose the fight? What all the armchair analysts couldn’t get their minds around was that when your tribe is attacked, you do what you have to do to win. You win by any means necessary. Later there could be a victor’s justice, fine, but first there had to be a victory. The thing was, most Americans wanted nothing more than to be safe. Maybe it hadn’t always been that way, in fact he suspected things had once been different, but these days America had become a nation of sheep. Which to him was a pretty sorry way to live, a way that represented everything he’d joined the army to get away from; but that was American culture these days, and someone had to keep the sheep safe from the wolves. He understood at some level that the bullshit restrictions and the second-guessing just came with the territory. Still, it was galling to be put in a position where he was more afraid of CNN than he was of al Qaeda. A BMW 750L pulled up in front of the Four Seasons and a doorman with an umbrella moved forward to open the door. Ben tensed, but no, it was an Asian couple, not the Iranians. He settled back onto the chair and resumed his waiting. No one had told him where the intel behind this op had come from, of course. But from the quality of the information on the Iranians, and its paucity regarding the Russian, Ben suspected an Iranian mole—possibly in the country’s nuclear program, more probably in the security services. An asset in the nuclear program would have known the scientists’ names and itineraries. He might even have known about the VAVAK minders. But only someone in charge of security would also have access to the false names and papers under which the men would be traveling, and to their passport photos. Also, understanding the likely fate to which he was condemning them, someone in the nuclear program would have found it harder to give up the scientists. After all, they Eisl_9780345505088_2p_all_r1.qxp 9/8/08 7:40 AM Page 22 22 Barry Eisler would have been colleagues, men another scientist would know personally. Betraying your country is easier to rationalize than betraying a friend. It was interesting. At one point, Uncle Sam had been more inclined to render the Jafaris and Kazemis of the world to friendly governments like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where they could be interrogated with proper rigor. But then the CIA had screwed up the rendition of Abu Omar from Milan, leaving a paper trail so egregious an Italian magistrate had issued arrest warrants for the thirteen CIA operatives behind it, and then “plane spotters” had started to unravel the whole secret rendition network. The Pentagon had decided it was better to act more discreetly, and more directly. No one took the CIA seriously anymore anyway, not since the DCI had been made subordinate to the new director of national intelligence and the agency had been saddled with the problem of those nonexistent Iraqi WMDs. If you wanted actionable intelligence now, and if you wanted the intelligence acted upon, the Pentagon was the only real player in town. Ben knew all this, but he didn’t really care. He wanted nothing to do with politics, national or organizational. Hell, the politicians didn’t even know men like him existed, and if they suspected, they knew better than to inquire. The military didn’t invent “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” It learned it from Congress. So basically, things were copacetic. There was a lot of work, and he was good at it. It all involved a simple understanding. If he fucked up, he would be denied, disowned, and hung out to dry. If he continued to achieve results, he would be left alone. It was the kind of deal he could live with. One where you knew the rules, and the consequences, up front. Not like what his family had pulled on him after Katie. Not that any of that mattered at this point anyway. They were all gone now, except for Alex, who might as well be gone, and good riddance, too. Another BMW pulled up. Ben leaned forward so he could see more clearly through the curtains, and bingo, it was the Iranians, their first time back to the hotel before dark. This was it, he was sure of it, the chance he’d been waiting for. He felt a hot flush of adrenaline—a famil- Eisl_9780345505088_2p_all_r1.qxp 9/8/08 7:40 AM Page 23 FAULT LINE 23 iar, pleasant sensation in his neck and gut—and his heart began to thud a little harder. The Iranians headed into the hotel, one VAVAK guy forward, the other aft. Ten to one they’d be on their way out within an hour, two at the most. He stood and cracked his neck, then started doing some stretches and light calisthenics. He’d been sitting a long time with nothing but quick bathroom breaks. That was fine while he was waiting. But the time for waiting was done. An excerpt from Fault Li ne By Barry Eisler Excerpted from FAULT LINE by Barry Eisler Copyright ÂŠ 2009 by Barry Eisler. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. A free excerpt courtesy of Ballantine Books www.atrandom.com